Hearing Date Set For North Dakota Suit Vs. NCAA

A hearing to halt enforcement of an NCAA policy penalizing the University of North Dakota for its use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo is scheduled for Nov. 9 in Northeast Central District Court in Grand Forks County.

The hearing is tentatively scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. before Judge Lawrence Jahnke. Attorneys representing the NCAA and the state of North Dakota will present arguments on the state’s request for a preliminary injunction against the association.



The NCAA policy — introduced in August 2005 — prohibits UND from hosting NCAA-sponsored championship events or displaying the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo at those events. On Oct. 6, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed a lawsuit for the state on behalf of UND and the State Board of Higher Education.

Liz Brocker, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said the NCAA is expected to file a response to the request for a preliminary injunction sometime before the Nov. 9 hearing. A formal response to North Dakota’s summons and complaint will be due after the hearing, she said.

Jahnke, a Minneapolis native, received his law degree from UND in 1966. All five judges serving in the Northeast Central Judicial District where the lawsuit was filed are UND law school graduates. Stenehjem also received his law degree from UND.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary and then a permanent injunction against the NCAA’s policy, as well as unspecified financial damages and attorneys’ costs. The state is suing the NCAA on three grounds:

• Breach of contract for failing to follow the procedures and process for implementing policies as outlined in the NCAA’s constitution, bylaws and regulations.

• Breach of good faith and fair dealing.

• Unlawful restraint of trade caused by the NCAA’s monopoly position in college athletics.

Citing the approval of local “namesake” tribes, the NCAA has granted policy exemptions to the Florida State Seminoles, the Utah Utes, the Central Michigan Chippewa and the Mississippi College Choctaws. Most of the 18 schools originally identified as having what the NCAA termed “hostile and abusive” nicknames have agreed to comply with the policy.

The state of North Dakota contends that not only did UND have the approval to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo from the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe, but also that the appeals process was a “sham.” In addition, the state claims that the NCAA applied the policy in a manner that was “arbitrary, capricious and indicative of bad faith” while failing to provide any evidence that UND’s nickname and logo “creates or leads to a hostile or abusive championship environment.”

For its part, the NCAA has recently outlined its position in the Indianapolis Star, in which senior vice president for governance and membership Bernard Franklin said, “After four years of careful review, the NCAA Executive Committee enacted a policy that aligns the core principles of cultural diversity, civility, respect and nondiscrimination with the practice of creating an educational environment at NCAA championship venues. The policy does not restrict a member institution from participating in an NCAA championship; neither does it require a member institution to change its mascot or nickname.”

After the NCAA Executive Committee turned down UND’s final appeal last April, North Dakota’s State Board of Higher Education gave the university approval to sue the NCAA. Stenehjem is in charge of the lawsuit, which is being funded through donations from alumni and others. The university has also received legal assistance from inside and outside the state, according to UND officials.

UND’s use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo (the school has no mascot) have been controversial for more than 30 years. Sioux tribes in the Dakotas have passed resolutions calling on the university to change the name. Numerous organizations and programs on the UND campus have passed similar resolutions.


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